Although breast cancer is the most common cancer among women, affecting 1 in 14 women in Singapore who may develop the condition before the age of 75, the startling fact remains that less than 40% of eligible women in Singapore go for mammogram screenings.
The incidence of breast cancer diagnosis in Singapore has more than doubled over the past 40 years, as reported in the cancer registry. More women, along with their families – many of whom are dual-income – are affected. It not only debilitates the well-being of the woman with breast cancer but could also negatively impact her family.
Breast cancer is not just a woman’s problem but it is a societal issue. Early detection of breast cancer can save lives and men are also important in the fight against breast cancer when it comes to encouraging women in their lives to go for mammograms and self-examinations.
At Breast Cancer Foundation (BCF), men have always played a central role – 2 of their 8 founding members were men (Dr Ng Eng Hen and the late Mr Jackie Ng). The Men’s Support League was founded by Mr Jackie Ng in 1998 to emphasise men’s role against breast cancer.
BCF’s logo features 2 adjoining ribbons that form a heart, putting emphasis that breast cancer is a societal issue that involves not only women (the pink) but also represents the men in various roles lending their support (the grey).
In view of Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October, we speak to Mr David Fong, the first male GM in the 21-year history of Breast Cancer Foundation, in an email interview on his work in Breast Cancer Foundation and how men can step up to be advocates in the fight against breast cancer.
1. What is your perspective on working in an organisation that is predominately female?
It’s not new to me because, in my family, I’m the only son; I’ve two sisters and I’m married with three daughters. In the work setting, in all the organisations that I’ve worked in, women make up the majority. So you can say that I’m comfortable working in a predominantly female environment.
And also as a husband, father, son, brother, friend and colleague, it comes natural to me to want to look after the well-being of the women in my life.
2. Tips for husbands/male friends/sons on being an advocate to encourage the women in their lives to go for a mammogram
In a survey that we did, we found that though 90% of Singaporeans regard regular breast checks to be important, and consider breast cancer to be dangerous, only 45% of women perform breast checks regularly. This is why the support of men in the fight against breast cancer is crucial.
Men can play the role of an advocate in several ways. They can remind the women in their lives to perform regular checks – that includes self-checks as well as mammograms.
Early detection is key because the rate of survival for breast cancer when detected at stage 1 is 90%. Another way is to accompany them if they’re anxious because it’s their first mammogram.
They can also offer support by truly listening instead of jumping straightaway into problem-solving mode. There could be many reasons why she does not want to go for mammograms. She may think that she feels healthy, so why should she go for a check-up? Or she could be afraid the screening would be painful.
Take the time to hear her out so she can feel more affirmed and encouraged to take that step.
3. Any interesting anecdotes to share?
Earlier this year during a radio show that I was on, there was a call from a listener who called in to say that he doesn’t know how to handle his wife’s emotions following the breast cancer diagnosis. Sometimes, a man may not know how exactly to show his love, support and concern.
Actually, I feel that sometimes they don’t need to do anything but to just be present and available for their loved one. Sit with your wife and just be with her so that she knows that you’re there for her and she can feel comforted by your presence.
I have a friend whose wife has pancreatic cancer. When the wife was feeling down after her chemo session, what my friend did was to just sit with his wife. When his wife didn’t talk, he didn’t talk either. There are times to take action but there are also times to just be there with your loved one. You may never be able to fully understand what the person is going through but just being there is an unspoken way to say “I’m here for you, I love you and you don’t need to go through this by yourself.”
4. What is the best takeaway from working in BCF so far?
My biggest takeaway is that people really care and want to help – from corporates to individuals, regardless of gender, it is heartwarming to see the overwhelming support from people coming forward to offer their help.
We’ve always emphasised that breast cancer is not just a woman’s issue and we cannot do this work alone. Our mission at BCF is to eradicate breast cancer as a life-threatening disease and we can only do this through the collective effort of the community, corporates, schools and individuals coming together to help us spread the awareness that breast cancer need not be a death sentence.
In the fight against breast cancer, we are definitely stronger together.
Information on BCF Programmes and Services:
• Wear The Pink Ribbon Campaign
Wear The Pink Ribbon Campaign is an annual signature event organised by Breast Cancer Foundation during Breast Cancer Awareness Month (BCAM) in October, to increase awareness, raise funds, and enable them to continue their mission of “eradicating breast cancer as a life-threatening disease”.
Specially designed pink ribbon pins are made available island-wide during BCAM, as the pink ribbon is an international symbol representing breast cancer awareness and hope for breast cancer survivors. This year, there are 300 participating retail outlets and you can find them here.
• Community Mammobus Programme (CMP)
February of last year, BCF launched CMP together with Singapore Cancer Society and National Healthcare Group Diagnostics. CMP is an initiative to provide funding assistance to make mammogram screenings even more affordable to the community, exclusively on the Mammobus. It is free for first-time Singaporean participants with a nominal fee for eligible women. The Mammobus will be deployed to various locations across Singapore throughout the year.
• BEAM (Breast Cancer Foundation Encouragement for Active Mammograms)
The free mammogram programme, jointly initiated in partnership with Health Promotion Board, has benefitted 8,000 low-income women each year since its inception in 2013.
• Pink Ribbon Walk
Pink Ribbon Walk is BCF’s flagship annual community event. Held annually during the Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October, this year’s Walk will be the 12th in the series. Pink Ribbon Walk is organised to raise awareness and to emphasise the importance of a healthy lifestyle, and to demonstrate solidarity with those afflicted with breast cancer.
The theme for this year is “Shared Courage – Stronger Together, We Overcome”. It is a rallying cry to everyone with a mother, sister, wife, aunt, friend, colleague; to stand together in solidarity with women afflicted or struggling with breast cancer or who have passed on due to breast cancer. For more information, visit www.pinkribbonwalk.sg or @PinkRibbonWalk (Facebook)
• Young Women’s Network
BCF launches Singapore’s first Young Women’s Network to support women who are aged 44 and below, and diagnosed with breast cancer. According to the Singapore Cancer Registry, about 1 in 5 women who are diagnosed with breast cancer are aged 44 and below. Younger women often face unique concerns upon diagnosis, like fertility, career concerns or guilt towards having to inform their parents of their condition.
• Positive Appearance Scheme & Wig Loan Programme
The Positive Appearance Scheme provides sponsorship of prostheses and bras for low-income women who are diagnosed with or are survivors of, breast cancer. BCF’s Wig Loan programme helps members regain and enhance their self-confidence by loaning them wigs for free when they start their breast cancer treatments and experience hair loss during the process.
• Support Groups
The support groups provide an understanding and caring environment conducive for those affected by breast cancer. In 2017, the Men’s Support League was integrated with the Caregiver Support Group to enable both men and women caregivers to share their journey of providing support to loved ones with breast cancer.
• Healing Through The Arts
BCF firmly believes that life continues beyond breast cancer. Through shared activities in sports and arts such as dragon boating, sound therapy, crochet and ukulele, breast cancer survivors bond and find a new lease of life through the HTTA programme. The programme is exclusive to breast cancer survivors and features recreational and therapeutic activities aimed at rebuilding their physical and mental well-being for short- and long-term recovery.
• Befrienders Programme
BCF has a vibrant network of Volunteer Befrienders (and survivors of breast cancer) who are committed to sharing their experiences to caregivers and women diagnosed with breast cancer by offering their assistance and support via hospital visits and phone calls.
Images by Breast Cancer Foundation.
Mr David Fong was Chief Operating Officer at the Singapore Cancer Society for three years before he went to answer a calling at the Archdiocesan Commission for the Family in the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Singapore to help fulfil its mission of helping families be fully alive and loving as God loves. He returns to the non-profit community health sector as the first male General Manager in the 21-year history of Breast Cancer Foundation where he is spreading the message that early detection saves lives.
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